Dec. 05--Friends in the Detroit rock community have been celebrating the life of Bootsey X, the colorful front man and drummer who died Thanksgiving Day after a four-year battle with brain cancer. He was 59.
Born Robert Mulrooney and raised in Livonia, Bootsey was a prolific, versatile presence on Detroit's rock scene for several decades, from his early days behind the kit with first-wave punk bands such as the Ramrods and Coldcock.
He went on to make his mark in the '80s and '90s in a host of groups, including the Mutants, Dark Carnival, Cinecyde, the Sillies and Rocket 455. But it was through his own signature projects, most notably Bootsey X and the Lovemasters, where his freewheeling, left-field take on funk and R&B truly got to shine.
The band was one in a series of incarnations with names like Bootsey Cucaracha, Bootsey and the Tsetse Flies and Bootsey and the Banshees.
With the Lovemasters -- which he once described to the Free Press as "a tacky '70s soul review" -- the part-time hairdresser and record-store clerk stepped into a front man role, cranking out such titles as "Hunka Hunka Burnin' Elvis," "You'll Never Get Behind (With a Behind Like That)" and, perhaps best known around town, "Pusherman of Love."
"You get so much energy up onstage," Bootsey X told the Free Press as the Lovemasters hit their stride in 1988. "I got my hipster outfit. I got my shades. And I get to be this obnoxious, boastful character. I can be really wild and people will say, 'Oh, that's just Bootsey.' "
"You can't take the character away from the music," said Mary Restrepo (Detroit Cobras), a longtime friend and onetime girlfriend. "There's a lot of people who have the music, and a lot of people full of antics, but when you put the two together you have something really entertaining and wonderful to be around."
Nicknaming himself in honor of iconic funk bassist Bootsy Collins -- and crossing his forearms onstage to flash an "X" -- Bootsey melded his irreverent nature with a genuine passion for the music he loved.
"Bob Mulrooney possessed the true rock 'n' roll spirit. He wouldn't give up for anything," recalled Ramrods band mate Ivan Sujanvieff (known on stage as Mark Norton). "He was a classicist in his approach to music, in particular to R&B."
In June, Bootsey released what turned out to be his final album -- and first official solo effort -- with "Women's Love Rites," featuring a host of Detroit guest players.
The record was cut by producer Matt Smith amid Mulrooney's ongoing chemotherapy treatments. In what Restrepo called a frustratingly familiar scenario for Detroit musicians, Mulrooney was uninsured, and fundraising shows were staged in the months following his October 2009 cancer diagnosis.
Beloved as one of Detroit rock's enduring characters, Bootsey was also heralded as a musician on the vanguard, a quintessential Detroit spirit "made out of pure love and humor and a you've-got-to-keep-going kind of thing," as Restrepo put it.
A bigger break never came his way -- but then, Bootsey hadn't necessarily aimed for one.
"He came out of a different era," said Restrepo. "If he'd have come out now, maybe he could have done that. Or in the early '90s, the same thing -- I think he would have stood out a little more. He'd have seen there were other bands like him, coming through the Gold Dollar. It would have given him (similar) things to hook up with, and it could have flourished that way."
Sujanvieff said Bootsey went out the same way he embraced life.
"I heard that when he died, there was a smile on his face," he said. "What I think it was: He'd always worn those silver lycra pants. As he was lying in bed, he was probably thinking, 'I need the perfect pair of shoes to go with those pants.' And in his dying moments, he saw a shop up on Michigan with that pair of shoes to go with those lycra pants to wiggle his bootie in."
A tribute show is planned for Jan. 18 at Corktown Tavern, with an artist lineup to be announced.
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